Seeking to Understand Excalibur

Towards the end of The Force Awakens, Finn draws out a lightsaber and ignites it, hoping to stop Kylo Ren.  Having absolutely no Jedi training and likely being entirely unfamiliar with how to wield a lightsaber, he nonetheless stands firm in his defense.  Kylo Ren, his own red lightsaber ignited and threatening, demands the traitorous former stormtrooper to hand over the lightsaber, declaring, “That lightsaber.  It belongs to me.”

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And the audience, collectively, has no idea what he is talking about.

Luke’s lightsaber is certainly the biggest “WHAT” moment in the movie.  More so than Han Solo being murdered, than BB-8’s amazing flamethrower thumbs up, than Luke’s dramatic reveal that closes the film.  The reappearance of what should have been a lost artifact sets major pieces of the film in action.  It spurs Rey to abandon her companions and gives Finn the courage to face down his former brothers-in-arms.  But how did it actually get there?  Where is it going? Why does Kylo Ren think it belongs to him?

What do we know about the lightsaber in question?  It belonged to Anakin Skywalker during the Clone Wars and was recovered by Obi-Wan Kenobi after their confrontation on Mustafar.  Kenobi hid the saber along with his very presence in the dusty shadows of Tatooine, watching over the young Luke Skywalker from a short-distance.  After Luke established a connection with Kenobi, the crazy old wizard told Luke that his father would have wanted him to have it when he was old enough, as close to a lady in the lake bestowing Excalibur upon Arthur as Tatooine (and George Lucas) would allow.  After training in the Jedi ways, and choosing to confront Vader face-to-face on Cloud City above the planet Bespin, the lightsaber fell down on open shaft (along with Luke’s hand), disappearing into the darkness.  And from there, the lightsaber passed into mist and mystery.

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Bespin.  Bespin has no land mass.  It is a gas giant.  It has no solid ground, just a core of more deeply condensed gasses, similar to Jupiter (you know, in our actual solar system).  So when Luke’s lightsaber goes spinning wildly into the dark, it has to end up somewhere.  It seemed most likely that it escaped the center of Cloud City via duct work similar to what Luke slid down, entangling himself on a weather vane underneath the bulk of the floating structure.  In fact, in Empire Strikes Back, some sort of object is seen falling into the clouds when Luke hits the weather vane.  It seems unlikely that this object is his lightsaber (and/or dismembered hand) since it fell so much sooner than Luke’s body.  However, the idea remains that it likely got sucked out of the large empty chamber and spit out into the atmosphere. But if that is true, then the saber would simply have fallen further and further until crushed by the mounting pressure and gasses.  The opportunity for recovery is laughably unrealistic.  

And yet, there it is, in a box in the basement of Maz’s centuries-old watering hole.  While Lucasfilm has not yet provided a detailed explanation of how it got there, they have started to give us some clues.  The short story The Perfect Weapon details the events of an unknown purchaser purchasing an unknown item.  While so much is left to interpretation and ambiguity, the popular theory is that this is someone who was able to track down the elusive lightsaber.  It has not been confirmed but it is not impossible to connect the dots in this way.  It still does not explain where it came from post-Cloud City duel, but somehow, mysteriously, miraculously, incredulously, it kept moving.  

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So it wound up in Maz’s basement, where Rey is struck with a Force vision that spirals out of control; she rejects it, leaving Maz to thrust it in the hands of Finn, the former stormtrooper.  The marketing materials up to the release of TFA put action shots of Finn wielding the saber front and center.  However, as we are now rapidly approaching the release of The Last Jedi, marketing materials have labeled it “Rey’s lightsaber.”  (Now, I do not believe we should put sufficient stock in the nomenclature offered by marketing teams.  If we were to take marketing materials as gospel, then Luke’s lightsaber was yellow, Mace Windu’s was blue, and Jyn Erso was a sergeant in the Rebel Alliance.  They can label the weapon what they want, but what plays in the film will ultimately be the determinate of the ownership.)  

But what compels Kylo Ren to declare ownership of the saber?  We must approach the dangerous “theorizing zone” in order to address this.  If the saber ended up in Maz’s basement, how could Kylo have recognized the device?  There are only a few likely scenarios.

  1. Luke re-obtained the saber and kept it at his academy until it was lost again; or
  2. Kylo Ren obtained the saber (a la The Perfect Weapon) and lost it himself; or
  3. Luke had the saber at his Academy and Kylo Ren took it and then lost it.

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It is a bit of a mess no matter how it shakes out.  But perhaps he was not necessarily laying claim to the weapon as a matter of blood lineage.  At first glance, it seems that Kylo Ren is claiming the saber because of his devotion and direct connection to Anakin Skywalker, via Darth Vader.  At this point, Kylo is aware of his parentage as revealed within the contents of Bloodline, wherein Leia is outed as the daughter of Vader publicly and it is made clear that her son hears the news on the Holonet as opposed to her being able to tell young Ben Solo when he is ready.  However, it is possible that Kylo less recognizes the saber as belonging to Anakin Skywalker and simply recognizes it as the weapon of the Jedi.  Perhaps his claim to the saber is more along the lines of, “I am heir to the Jedi tradition as the one who is responsible for its second annihilation; therefore, as the one who burned the Academy to the ground, the remnants belong to me including that weapon.”

This particular theory makes a bit more logical sense within the context of the film.  It helps to clean up the messiness of Kylo somehow being familiar with a device that should have been lost to the center of a planet but insteads shows up in a dark basement somewhere in the galaxy.  Still, Kylo Ren also has the melted and deformed helmet of Darth Vader in his personal study.  So is it so much of a stretch for him to actually be familiar with the saber of Vader as well?  What is the cleanest and simplest explanation?  Or is Anakin’s lightsaber’s history going to be as convoluted as the “real” Excalibur?

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Hopefully, the release of The Last Jedi will consider addressing some of these inconsistencies.  

There could be a combination of explanations.  Perhaps Skywalker had recovered Anakin’s lightsaber himself and told a younger Ben Solo the story about recovering it.  Maybe it was lost during the sacking of Luke’s academy and somehow delivered to Maz.  Maybe Kylo Ren did not recognize the saber that Finn and Rey brandished and was laying claim to the heir of the Jedi himself.  Maybe it is all of this and more, or maybe none of it.  

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As we continue to see the Disney-era of Star Wars rewrite much of the in-universe history, hopefully The Last Jedi will lean into these mysteries instead of abandoning them for convenience sake.  Rian Johnson has been given a grand vote of confidence after being green-lit for an entirely new Star Wars trilogy unconnected to existing stories.  I for one am hopeful that The Last Jedi regales us with the tales of Skywalker’s Jedi adventures since Return of the Jedi, including what really happened between himself and Kylo Ren.  Until then, Anakin’s lightsaber is one more item in the “unsolvable” category of conundrums.  While trying to fill in the gaps on our own might be an exciting mental exercise, building the full puzzle will still require us to wait till we have all pieces in hand.

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